Tuesday, May 19, 2009

10 useful phrases I said in France today

When learning a new language it’s a bit difficult to know what areas to focus on first. Do I need vocabulary for travel? Phrases for asking directions? Keywords for understanding a menu and ordering? Numbers for prices, addresses and phone numbers?

Of course, the answer depends on why you’re learning the language and when you’ll be using it. The needs of a university student backpacking across Germany are different from those of a couple moving to Spain to enjoy their retirement.

My personal experience as an American expat living and working in France (le rêve !) has shown me that the most important is mastering the things you say as you interact with people in daily situations. I did a little research this morning as I went to the market and then ran some errands. I kept a list of the phrases I said in French in order to see what the most useful ones were.

Here are my top ten:

1. Bonjour, Madame.
This one is obvious. Whether at La Poste, Monoprix or the market, greeting the person is always important.

2. Pourriez-vous m’aider ?
I say this one all the time. Why? Because I often need to ask for help! Fortunately, most people are very kind and are happy to help me figure out where to weigh my bag of fruit or how to tell when it’s my turn at the post office.

3. Je voudrais 500 g de fraises et un kilo de carottes, s’il vous plaît.
Standard market talk.

4. Je voudrais envoyer cette lettre aux Etats-Unis, s’il vous plaît.
As you see, this simple sentence structure (Je voudrais…) can get me nearly everything I want. Je voudrais €1 million. Hmm… didn’t work that time.

5. Oui, merci.
Again, very useful. This morning I said this to the vendor who asked if I wanted my strawberries in the same bag as the carrots, to the pharmacist who asked if I wanted the prescription in the bag with medication, and to the woman at the post office who asked if I wanted my letter sent priority mail. See? Très useful.

6. Excusez-moi, Madame.
Unfortunately, I have to say this one often too. I get sidetracked by the beautiful fruits and veggies and wind up bumping in to people. It’s also a phrase I use often on the métro at rush hour!

7. Vous avez dit combien ?
Numbers are tricky and I sometimes check with shopkeepers and vendors to be sure I’ve understood the prices correctly. (Especially the producteurs from the countryside who sometimes have strong accents I’m not used to.)

8. Une demi-baguette, s’il vous plaît.
Did you know that you can buy just half a loaf of French bread at the boulangerie?

9. Oui, il fait tellement beau aujourd’hui. Il faut en profiter !
Discussing the weather with my neighbor. This definitely falls under a daily activity!

10. Bonne journée. Au revoir.
Just as important as greeting, saying goodbye is the polite way to exit.

For more useful keywords, phrases and dialogues for everyday life in France, see the newly released audio learning guide Dialogues pour tous les jours, part of the Bien-dire Essentials range.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice Kari! Helpful! How does one get to be an ex-pat? I would love to move to France but have not quite figured out how..seems easier if you're British, hmmmm.